Radiation therapy with monoclonal antibodies


Generic Name Brand Name
ibritumomab Zevalin
tositumomab Bexxar

Ibritumomab and tositumomab are available for intravenous (IV) use. They are administered only under the supervision of a health professional.

How It Works

Ibritumomab and tositumomab deliver radiation directly to lymphoma cells using monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are substances produced in a lab that bind to cancer cells wherever they are in the body. Radiation is attached to a monoclonal antibody. The monoclonal antibody recognizes specific proteins that are found on the surface of some lymphoma cells. The monoclonal antibody locks onto the protein (like a key in a lock) and causes the cell to die. The radiation attached to the antibody also kills lymphoma cells that are nearby.

Ibritumomab is used with another monoclonal antibody medication called rituximab. Tositumomab is used by itself.

Why It Is Used

Ibritumomab and tositumomab are used to treat nonaggressive, low-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) that has relapsed or not responded to other treatments such as chemotherapy.

How Well It Works

Ibritumomab and tositumomab are effective treatments for nonaggressive, low-grade NHL that has relapsed or not responded to other treatment.1

Side Effects

Warnings about serious side effects of ibritumomab (Zevalin) have been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some of these side effects have been fatal. These side effects include trouble breathing; closing of the throat; swollen lips, tongue, or face; heart problems; and severe skin reactions. If you develop any of these symptoms, contact your health professional immediately.

Ibritumomab and tositumomab may cause birth defects. Do not receive this therapy if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant or father a child while you are taking these medicines.

Serious side effects of ibritumomab and tositumomab may include:

Less serious side effects may include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Chills.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Infection.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Rashes.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Before receiving treatment, your doctor will make sure you are healthy enough to take ibritumomab or tositumomab. People who have had more than 25% of their bone marrow replaced or been treated with radiation should not have this monoclonal antibody therapy.

You will be monitored closely after treatment. Monitoring includes imaging scans with a gamma camera to make sure the lymphoma is targeted and the rest of your body receives safe doses of radiation. Your blood will also be checked each week with a complete blood count (CBC) test for at least 10 weeks after treatment to look for blood disorders.

You will have a radioactive chemical in your body for several days after treatment. Therefore, limit your exposure to other people—especially to children and pregnant women—for at least 1 week. Use a method of birth control for 12 months after treatment because of possible effects on your reproductive organs. Do not breast-feed after receiving treatment. Dispose of bodily wastes, such as urine, properly because they have traces of radiation.

Ibritumomab and tositumomab have only been approved for use by adults. There is no specific information about the use of ibritumomab and tositumomab in children.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Cheson BD (2003). Radioimmunotherapy of non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Blood, 101(2): 391–398.

Last Updated: April 22, 2008

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.